Archive for Books of the Cook

Gourmet’s Gone

Gourmet’s Gone

With the closure of Gourmet magazine, an icon in the food industry is lost. Is print publication too quickly becoming a thing of the past?


Staring down at the October issue of Gourmet magazine, my heart is heavy with the knowledge that this is the second to last issue to be printed. The mega-publishing company Conde Nast announced this week that it will close Gourmet with the November issue, and sent its 180 employees, including famed editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl, packing.

This is a move sure to sadden many food readers. First published in December 1940, Gourmet stood apart in food journalism. Reading its pages, full of award-winning writing and photography, was like slipping into a carefully planned foodie’s dream. Each issue told endearing stories of culture, taking readers to a farm in Italy, a beach in the Caribbean. Gourmet‘s stories spoke of food history, told of the restaurants, chefs, and people who formed and changed the industry. The recipes that came out of the illustrious test kitchen were smart, creative, and inspiring. You never had to question if a recipe from Gourmet would work, it just did.

I first read Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Tender at the Bone, in high school, and I fell in love with Reichl’s charming, sophisticated food writing. She made me want to write about food. With each successive novel, I learned more about the woman and became more enthralled with food writing and working with Reichl. When she took over as Gourmet‘s editor in 1999, she brought the charisma of her writing into the magazine. Reichl enhanced the face of the magazine, making it truly the front runner in food journalism. Each issue was a gift; there was always a story to fall into, a menu to dream about, a recipe I had to get into the kitchen and try. With the creation of gourmet.com in 2008, suddenly there was a definite online place for food information, with articles I could spend days reading. Gourmet could be trusted, unlike so many other publications and websites. It wore creditability like a crown.

The magazine was the forerunner of long form food journalism. Each issue contained intense, well researched, and thought out articles on the future of food, politics of the food industry, and seasonal recipes and ideas. Like a beacon of standards in the food writing sector, Gourmet‘s pages never fell to the glitter of celebrity chefs, trends, or quickly written, poorly researched prose. It’s closure leaves a hole in food journalism that no other magazine has yet to fill. Conde Nast will focus their food coverage in their additional food magazine, Bon Appetit. Recipe and trend based, the magazine is full of pictures and light, casual articles. While Bon Appetit is necessity in the food world, it is not the behemoth of Gourmet.

In such troubling times, newspapers and magazines in every sector are facing the chopping block. Ad revenues, the stone upon which publications stand, have fallen by the wayside in the gloom of the recession. With periodicals being sold, turning to publishing exclusively online, and facing the chopping block completely, what is the future for publication and journalism? Online publication is instantaneous, can be quickly edited, changed, and updated. News can be reported around the clock; the front page of a newspaper can change its headlines hourly if need be. Still, holding an issue of Gourmet, circling recipes, feeling the print, means something to readers, doesn’t it? Are we heading too quickly to a time when print will cease to be? With the closure of Gourmet, and newspapers and magazines around the country, it looks that way. And this reader, for her part, is very sad about it.

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Think about what you eat

Think about what you eat

The film Food, Inc makes it plainly clear that we really have no idea what is in the food on our dinner plate.

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With 2006’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan sets the tone for the way we eat, calling his readers to look at labels and understand what makes up our food. Three years later, the phrases organic, sustainable, and free-range have become more common place, and yet Food, Inc is still a startling, eye-opening look at the food industry, intended to show, not just tell, what the trouble is all about.

The movie asks the prime question “How much do we really know about the food we buy and eat?” Throughout the 93 minute film, journalist Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan, and an array of farmers, meat producers, politicians, and citizens, shed light on that question. Scenes shift from unkempt chicken coops to employees struggling in unfair labor situations in slaughter houses; watching scenes of farmers who are left with little choice but to follow unsettling corporate policy, it is hard to not demand change.

Food, Inc insists that Americans are eating without thinking, and eating choices affect the environment, the food industry, politics and labor practices. The film discusses new strains of E.colli, caused by feeding cows corn(when they naturally feed on grass), which is spread into the water through their feces. It showcases the politics of subsidizing the corn industry and the dismay caused by patenting a crop and controlling individual farms. The film highlights the poor practices that arise when 80% of a market is controlled by four companies and details these companies’ unfair labor policies and treatment of employees.

Looking at the problems with the industry, Food, Inc also showcases farmers and companies who stand up to these practices. There is an insiders view of organic companies, sustainable farms, and farmers who stand up to corporations, even when it means loosing their jobs. The film emphasizes the burgeoning organic food industry, and promotes the men and woman who promote food safety.

In the end, the film asks it’s viewers to make choices about what they eat. While many people choose to shun fast food choices, they do not realize the meat they purchase from the supermarket is the same meat they would be eating at these chain restaurants. Colas and packaged goods packed full of preservatives and corn derivatives are supporting these industries, intentionally or not. The question is asked again, “What is in the food you eat?” Food, Inc‘s answer is found in supporting local farmers markets, reading labels, buying locally, and eating at home more often. Food, Inc suggests these 10 simple things to change our food system.

This is a must see film, because changing the way we eat is not only important, it is imperative. With the state of our food industry, environment, and labor practices, this shocking film is sure to educate and change your mind about the way your eat and what you put on your plate.

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A bite of Eggplant

A Bite of Eggplant

The thought of eating alone sits on the soul in a manner of ways. To some, it is a comfort. It may be a quiet time for mother to enjoy her own sublime cuisine, spent away from chicken fingers with ketchup. The gourmand may spend secret alone time devouring a guilty orange pleasure of microwave mac and cheese. For many, perhaps a Wall Street stock broker or a lonely mid-thirties career gal, the idea of eating alone means taking oneself out to lunch, spending money on good food and good wine. Others still find the idea repulsive; a schoolchild with few friends may spend as little time as possible eating lunch, not wishing to face seclusion. The solitary intake of food can be soothing, overwhelming, enjoyable, or even irritating. But no matter how one reacts to the event, dining alone is a simple fact of life. We have all, at one time or another, faced this necessity and reacted in a whole manner of ways.

As for me, dining alone is a bit of all of these things. On a cool night, all alone in my tiny apartment, I’m curled up in a blanket with a grilled PB&J, watching movies on the coach. A much needed day off is usually spent treating myself, sometimes to shopping or a movie, but almost always with a nice meal. Dressing up in fancy clothes and taking myself out for a date always makes me smile after long work weeks. And after a late night, chips, homemade salsa, and a beer is a great way to relax me down. I enjoy the quite time spent sitting at a table dining alone watching others around me, taking in the scene, and the lack of energy needed to eat tacos in front of the TV. Cooking for myself is usually simple but delicious, pasta or rice with salt, pepper, butter, fresh tomatoes. Sometimes a glass of white wine. When plans with friends fall through though, an unexpected dinner alone can turn into frustration and depression. A dinner date gone awry can make dinner for one downright miserable. Being alone in the kitchen indeed has it’s ups and downs.

These ups and downs of solo eating are chronicled in 2007’s collection of essays, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. Included are essays from some of the best food writers, each with their own story to tell about the perils and joys of dinning alone. In each story, you connect with the author as they feel happiness, joy, indifference, depression, and despair over simply dining alone. I laughed with Phoebe Nobles as she conquered asparagus in “Asparagus Superheros,” all at once wishing to begin an asparagus only diet as she did. As Colin Harrison discussed his many options for going “Out to Lunch,” I imagined a solitary meal in the old New York haunts he visited. My salt and pepper white rice, paired well with Anneli Rufus’ “White-on-White Lunch for when no one is Looking.” I cried out for Haruki Murakami to eat something else as I read ” The Year of Spaghetti,” and I wished for love to be ditacted by potatoes as Nora Ephron suggests in “Potatoes and Love: Some Reflections.”

The book is a terrific read. Jenni Ferrari-Alder has brought together some powerful, insightfully humorous and touching essays on a subject that truly touches everyone. The essays connect with the reader and with each other, in many ways glorifying the art of eating alone, but also showcases it’s ability to bring out tears. Reading one, you may laugh out loud, and in the next few pages be flooded with sadness. Overall it is a book full of emotion, the very core of eating alone, and one that will, at the very least make you appreciate your last meal, solitary or not.

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The Food Snob

The Food Snob

 

Food Snob n: A person whose slightly heightened gastronomic knowledge is in part thanks to reading The Food Snob’s Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Gastronomical Knowledge by David Kamp and Marion Rosenfeld

I anxiously awaited my mail for a week. A package was to arrive, one that included a book sworn to be so informative and life changing I could hardly contain my excitement. Opening the small brown box from Amazon, I finally feasted my eyes upon the newest volume of culinary knowledge, one that would take me from merely an interested gourmand to the status of a true Food Snob. Turning back the pages of the tiny book, really no more a pamphlet of culinary facts than an encyclopedia of gastronomic knowledge, I quickly absorbed it’s mixture of random food trivia. Taking the book as seriously as say the authors, who jest not only at the odd facts but also at themselves for being the collectors of said facts, The Food Snob’s Dictionary is both informative and entertaining way to pass a few hours.

Traveling the alphabet, readers on their way to becoming Food Snob’s acquire a gastronomic education that spans cooking utensils, unusual produce, information about food celebrities and details about the highest quality producers. Some entries: Zest “The colored outer layer of the peel of a citrus fruit…” or Stone Fruit”…large pitted fruits…”are mainstream verbiage in this food obsessed day and age, making the Dictionary seem more an introductory guide for the culinary novice. The detailed descriptions of many of the world’s top culinary products and restaurant insider terminology argues otherwise. What true gourmand does not know the history and background of Berkshire pork(“Upmarket pork from purebred swine of British pedigree”) or Hudson Valley Foie Gras(“Upstate New York pioneer…manufacture of the traditionally French-made fattened-liver treat”). And doesn’t every line cook wear Bastad chef’s clogs and know that a Reefer is really a refrigerator. If they don’t, they certainly will after a quick study of The Food Snob’s Dictionary. The true gems of the Dictionary lay in the detailed descriptions of top influential culinary minds. Food Snob’s, if no one else, know that James Beard was not only the Buddha of twentieth-century American gastronomy but was widely known for his untidy personal life and that Washington DC pioneer chef Jean-Louis Palladin has poodle hair, comedy mustache, and Tootsie eyeglasses.

Finishing the Dictionary one can truly appreciate how vast culinary information is. Published in late 2007, the book already seems dated, although it’s sarcastic tone towards food snobs for whom the actual joy of eating and cooking is but a side dish to the accumulation of arcane knowledge about these subjects, allows at least this reader to relax slightly when faced with the overwhelming amount of knowledge the food worlds demands of its students. Written by David Kamp, the genius behind the very informative United States of Arugula, the book is at times almost laugh out loud funny while still succeeding to be educational. If only math text books could work the same way.

A Meal Fit for a Food Snob

Free-range Vegetarian-fed Egg Omlette with leeks, fingerling potatoes(pg 40), and Niman Ranch Bacon(pg 73) served with a salad of Wild Arugala, Raw milk(pg86) Buttermilk Blue Cheese, and Meyer Lemon( pg69)Vinaigrette

Omlette e Salat

 

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My Life in France: Life with Julia

My Life in France: Life with Julia

I first met Julia Child in the summer of 2002. I had just graduated high school and was headed to Philadelphia in the fall, where my culinary studies would begin at Drexel Univeristy. My mother, an ardent educator, introduced me into Julia’s kitchen and my eyes went wide. Peering at the piles of cookbooks and utensils, I daydreamed of the day when my kitchen walls would include the outline of where each individual pot and pan should hang apon it, just as Julia’s did. As my mother and I walked through the exhibit at the American History Musuem, showcasing the life and talent of this women, I thought there could be no greater lady. Later I found myself once again face to face with Julia as I began to Master[ing] the Art of French Cooking in my French Cuisine classes in culinary school. Just as Julia’s warmth had leapt from her kitchen, it now leapt from the pages of her book, teaching me the skills neccessary to create classic French cuisine. Although I never actually met the grand lady, her legacy was introduction enough.

In her final work, My Life in France, is a further introduction to Julia and to the grand life she led. Her story begins in the early 1950’s, as Julia moves with her husband, Paul Child, to what she refers to as la belle France. Julia begins her love affair with France and with food, and the book is a whirlwind of the world of Julia’s tastes, sights, and feelings. Reading about her first bites of French cuisine in Rouen is almost comical. That the woman who brought French cuisine to the American cook may have at one point not known a shallot or had a taste for oysters seems absurd, but tasting it for the first time with Julia, the reader sees where this lady’s passion began. The book bounds through her true gastronmic journey, as she studied at Le Courdon Bleu and taught herself  how to really think and cook like a Frenchman. Her drive and unfailling ability to educate herself in any culinary feat is inspiring, and will be sure to get anyone, from the well seasoned chef to those who have never cooked before, into the kitchen.

My Life in France is a journey thourgh the Child’s life but also throughout Euope and the US. Traveling with the Julia and Paul from Paris, to Marseille, to Germany and back to the US, the reader is taught some of the great food lessons Julia had to teach herself. Learning to  cook fish on the Mediterranean, making pie dough and working out the differences in American and French flour, and recreating the atmosphere for baking French bread, the reader is included on many of the trials and tribulations Julia faced in research for her books and in learning her grande cuisine. A rigid and detailed writer, Julia’s acheievements are all the more admirable, as the reader understands with what degree the time and care that went into each of her books, television programs, and recpies.

A memior above all else, My Life in France, is emmaculate in detail, charming, and full of life. Julia recalls dates, times, places, and people in a way that allows the reader to experience them first hand. The reader is transported to a market in Paris buying rabbit or to Provence for dinner with James Beard. A truly grand story of a truly grand lady, the relationships she held most dear are illuminated in the prose. The book is the story of her love affair with Paul Child, who took pictures of Julia de-boning chickens and helped create the books she came to love and the life she led. It tells of Simone Beck, her French sister and co-author, with whom she battled about recipes and created a great masterpeice of a book. Julia’s story is that of her reltaionshop with James Beard, and with famous French food writer Curnonsky, and the many farmers, chef’s, and people who Julia touched and who touched Julia along the way. This prose is one that is enlightening, full of warm, heart felt stories about food and life, and it is a great hit. Although I have never truly met Julia Child, this book makes me feel one giant step closer to feeling as though I have.

My Life in France

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Presidential Pastries

This month I pushed myself to find the time to finally finish, “All the President’s Pastries,” by Roland Mesnier. I met Mesnier at a sugar demonstration several months ago, and found him both truly talented and wonderfully intriguing. After the eye opening class into the world of pulled sugar, I picked up both his books: “Dessert University,” an exploration of the pastry basics, and “All the President’s Pastries,” which chronicles his life, including a detailed account of the twenty five years Mesnier spent as the White House pastry chef. Having spent several years of my own childhood in Washington, DC, I was equally intrigued by the life of Mesnier as the secret spot sweets hold to the First Family, and began to eagerly read into the story of the White House pastry chef.

Roland Mesnier, a tall, round French man, is in person a truly jovial sort, and the pleasant energy he carries comes across in the pages of his book. His rags to riches story is just as interesting, if not more so, as the time he spent creating elaborately plated desserts for the world’s leaders. There is a certain romanticism about Mesnier’s early childhood, growing up in the Comte region of France and entering his apprenticeship at age 14, to learn pastry arts like his brother. Reading about the Old World way, where a young pastry cook is taught by his chef in return for housing and a promise of work, Mesnier makes me feel a nostalgia for something I never knew myself. And he brings you along as he continues to learn and grow in some of the great hotels, from London’s Savoy to the Princess in Bermuda. His story is one to admire.

Mesnier’s story comes to America as his experience as a chef in Virginia, at the Homestead, and then he begins the tale of the Presidential sweets. For the second half of the book the focus shifts away from Mesnier and details vividly the First Families, their distinct idiosyncrasies towards the ending of the meal, and the many galas, parties, and dinners Mesnier was responsible for creating elaborately constructed desserts for. He shares with the reader his personal experience of the 25 years he spent as White House pastry chef, from creating birthday cakes for many members of five different First Families to tearing away chocolate chip cookies from allergic Bill Clinton.

As the story turns to tales of White House desserts, parties, and treats, the focus becomes slightly cloudy. In many sections, Mesnier jumps from one idea to the next in an almost irrational manner, so that in one sentence you are reading about Hilary Clinton’s team of women, coined Hillaryland, and in the next about an orange sorbet Mesnier molded for a state dinner. The facts are quite interesting, but often the ordering and way in which they are presented makes the book become a hard read.

“All the President’s Pastries,” ends quite nicely, with Roland Mesnier returning from retirement to help out the White House once more. The book tells a truly interesting story about an the life of an interesting chef and the lives of five of our nations First Families. The pastries and desserts that Mesnier created at the White House are captivating, both in prose as well as the pictures included throughout the book. “All the President’s Pastries,” proves another good read.

All The President’s Pastries

All the President’s Pasteries

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The Books of the Cook

The Books of The Cook

Piles of magazines lay stacked in my room. Wednesday is the day for a trip to the newspaper stand for the food section of the LA and New York Times, which inevitably means buying whichever food magazines I don’t already have. I regularly read to the obvious ones: Gourmet, Bon Appetite, and Savuer, the magazines that everyone reads. Then I have my special ones: Donna Hay, Olive, Vogue Australia: Entertaining + Travel, and then of course my guilty pleasures. Martha Stewart Weddings because everything is so beautiful, and La Cucina Italia, because I love Italy so much. On top of that are the ten or so sections of the Washington Post food section that my mother sends every few months, along with the National Restaurant Association e-mail I get three times a week, the Gourmet e-mail I get once a week and the handful of food blogs I try to stay current with. And then there are books, my true love. With every chef turning writer and every writer turning chef, lord knows when a girl is supposed to have time to read all that culinary prose out there. But with a spare moment during my break, sitting in the alleyway outside of work, the odd day off spent on the beach, or the spurt of energy late at night, tucked into bed with a book, somehow the masses eventually all are read.

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